Last year, I accompanied my Classical Conversations Challenge II students and their parents to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee to hear the Nashville Symphony. The symphony orchestra performed three pieces by Mozart, one of which was his Piano Concerto 21, featuring Benedetto Lupo on the piano. It had been too long since I had experienced a live symphony orchestra and, chances are, it has been too long for you, as well. Even if you do not enjoy classical music, I think you should go. In fact, if you do not like classical music, it is probably because it has been too long since you went to hear it performed. Assuming that to be the case, I submit three reasons why it should not be very long until you attend a live symphony orchestra performing in their local concert hall. First, music is to be heard; second, music is to be seen; and third, music is to be felt.
1. Music is to be heard. No surprise here, right? Everyone knows that music is to be heard. That is the main point of music, of course, but my point is that until very recently, say the last 100 years, music had to be heard live. It was written to be heard live. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a very good set of speakers at home, and I love to sit in front of them and turn the volume up high enough so that the music fills me up. This is a fantastic way to listen to a good recording, but it will always be that—a recording. My head between my speakers or my headphones does not equal the acoustics of a finely constructed concert hall. At home, the best I can do is “stereo,” and I guess some folks can do “surround sound,” but at the concert hall you are listening to 50-100 different instruments producing their own sound, from their own location, and then bouncing around the room that was created to bounce music before reaching your ears. Surround sound cannot replicate the acoustics of a concert hall. At home you hear a recording; at the concert hall you hear the music.
2. Music is to be seen. Okay, I know, under normal circumstances, you cannot see sound waves. However, what I mean is that music does not birth spontaneously from empty space. People make music and people are alive, so music is alive (not exactly a flawless syllogism, but I stand by the assertion none the less). If you attend the performance of a symphony orchestra, you not only hear the music, but you see the music being made by the creators themselves. The conductor will lift his arms, the baton in one hand and the musicians will respond. He is the head and they are the members of this music-producing body. The violin bows will point toward heaven, praying for the gift of music to be granted. The conductor will momentarily lift baton and eyebrows, both will fall, and the dance will begin. The musicians will sway, shoulders will bend, feet will arch, eyes will close, and chests will rise and fall. The music is alive because its creators are alive. The instruments themselves come to life as their masters lovingly draw the music out of them while stage lights shimmer on brass and lacquer.
All of this focuses on the musicians themselves leaving out the lighting and architecture of the building. At the Schermerhorn in Nashville, we are blessed with exquisite chandeliers and stately, columned architecture. The pipes from the organ stand at perpetual attention behind the stage and exhibit their visual beauty whether or not they are producing their aural beauty.
All of this is yours to take in at your discretion. Watch it all at once or focus on one specific thing at a time. It’s your call, but only if you are there.
3. Music is to be felt. You will not only see and hear the music, you will feel it. There is a visceral delight that can only come when the mezzo piano pizzicato of the strings cadences and the full ensemble enters at a solid forte. It hits you. You feel it and it feels good. You’re alive and they’re alive, and the music is alive. You’re right; you can feel the boom of speakers at home or in the car. We’ve all experienced the boom of the speakers from someone else’s car, but the feeling I’m talking about is not detached from the other two points I have made.
The “feeling” of the music is the culmination of the acoustics, the lights, the conductor, the musicians, and even the little old lady sitting next to you, who smiles when the cadence is especially sweet. Life does not happen in boxes, it happens all at once, and feeling the music at a live symphony performance happens all at once. You must hear the music and see the music and be in the music in order to feel the music in this way.
A symphony orchestra is a crowning achievement of the triune God who made heaven and earth. He is one and He is three, all at once, all the time. A symphony is 50-100 musicians living and breathing together for one to two hours. It is one and it is many, in a way that no other genre of music has ever come close to achieving. A symphony is on a whole other level. It transcends, yet it is right there in front of you as well as around you to enjoy.
So, carpe symphoniam, “seize the symphony.” If you don’t love it now, devote yourself to it and grow to love it. You will be blessed and the world will be blessed that another image-bearer of God has become a patron of symphonic music. In our decadent culture, quality art needs all the patrons she can get.